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JOEL Joel's Blog

Campaign Furniture - A New Book by Christopher Schwarz


Campaign Furniture - A New Book by Christopher Schwarz 4"Campaign Furniture", the new book by Christopher Schwarz, is one of the most important books on woodworking to appear in the last generation. The reason has nothing to do with the quality of instruction (which is excellent) or anything like that.

Woodworking as a hobby is dying. For all everyone wants people to learn to work wood, and all woodworking, in any form, is a very satisfying thing to do, fewer and fewer young people are interested in it. There are many reasons, woodworking isn't taught in school as frequently as it used to, people have far less free time than they did, furniture is less of a status symbol, and furniture is less expensive than it was so there is less incentive to make it yourself to save money.

But the main reason, the overriding reason woodworking as a hobby is in decline is because of two things. The first is that most people aren't interested in filling their house with colonial style furniture and Shaker and Arts & crafts furniture has been so dumbed down at the mall that it doesn't excite the way it used to. The second reason is that people move a lot more than they did and moving furniture is a pain. Buying furniture in previous generations was about the momentous acknowledgement that you were setting up a household. These days, with a far more informal society, most furniture is just another purchase of a disposable household commodity.

The reason Chris' book is so important is that it's not just the first new style of furniture to be written about in the popular press since the Art's and Crafts craze, it's actually a style of furniture that can fit into our transient lifestyles.

I'm not going to repeat what I wrote in the product description, if you want to know more about the book click here. I do want to mention that the projects as a group seem to be at the same skill level as your average Shaker pieces, with the main difference being that the woods are fancier, and hardware is integral to the project.

Think about the whole genre this way: Your kid is finishing college and moving to a tiny apartment in a new city. Possibly with seventeen roommates. How useful would a campaign secretary desk be to them that comes apart into easily moveable sections for transport, and then reassembles into a solid desk. It might not be the baronial ship of executive state - but it's exactly the right size for someone who really wants a comfortable place to park their laptop and get stuff done.

Chris' book has a lot of interesting historical information and his designs are all reflective of the original construction methods. It wouldn't surprise me in the least, I even expect that in a year or so Chris or someone else will write another book on campaign furniture using more modern materials but keeping with the same concept of design - proper furniture for life on the go. This to me is where modern furniture needs to go and Chris gets full marks and applause on kicking off what I hope will be a revival of this genre. As I said at the start of this blog - this is one of the most important new books on woodworking in a long time.
Join the conversation
03/26/2014 William Johnston
Campaign furniture for people on the move sounds good. However, woodworking by people on the move seems problematic. The Kansas City Woodworkers Guild for example has 400 members and a 10,000 square-foot shop for a total cost including use of extensive tools of about $75 a year. This is great for people that don't have a shop, don't have a basement, or it's too hot or too cold to work in the garage. But if a person moves a lot he cannot expect to find a club like this into many other locations. What's the person that moves often to do?
03/26/2014 Jim McCoy
I agree wholeheartedly. Unfortunately I'm afraid these words are primarily preaching to the choir. Like art, music, mechanics, metal work, home economics, and many other character building classes, wood shop has been commoditized out of school curriculums because it doesn't fit into the standardized testing mentality fostered by an obsession with market driven economics. Hand crafted and confidence in one's ability to be self sufficient are concepts that don't fit into the mass brainwashing of consumerism. Patience and the reward for hard work have been replaced with instant gratification and continuous electronic stimulation. Elected officials don't serve the common person anymore so as parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and/or just plain old friends it is our duty to try and expose young people to the rewards and satisfaction that comes from making something that is both functional and beautiful yourself. Share the gift. It will make it that much more valuable.
03/26/2014 Steven
Wow! First campaign furniture is interesting for historical reasons, second Chris writes and publishes books at the highest quality - if you just appreciate a high quality book (paper, ink, binding, cover) his books are a return to that high quality found mainly in high quality, and usually restricted access, reference and research libraries.

Last, regarding the William Johnston comment about the Kansas Cit Woodworkers Guild and their giant collective membership workshop, does anyone know if there is anything similar in the greater metro Boston area, on any scale, at any size?

If so, leave a comment here, also send me an email message though I don't know if this site will posting my email address - I'll try. :-) I build acoustic guitars of all sorts - steel string, classic, flamenco and others from across the Americas. I use basic hand tools for the most part but on occasion, especially for jig building, access to a real wooodworker's workshop of any size would be very useful since my workshop is mainly my kitchen. But when the tools are exclusively basic hand tools by necessity and mostly choice, though if and when I have even a small dedicated workshop space I will put in some basic machinery, things with motors. :-)
03/26/2014 Mike Allen
Hand tools don't take up near the room of stationary power tools, cost less and are quiet. Moving a lot and no access to an equipped shop are the reasons I got started w/ hand tools. That was 20 years ago and that's enough for me.
Cheers, Mike
03/27/2014 Rick Lucier
I do not plan on moving any more. Yahoo. It is such a pain to move, but I am moving my new wife in. Newly wed at 66, not bad. I am not really interested in campaign furniture BUT I am interested in keeping lost art pub in business so I will buy a copy and more importably there may be a young guy interested in wood working that I get to help along that may be interested in building something out of Chris' book, so I will have to have it here. Schools do not teach it anymore,but young men and women want to learn how to work with their hands and I enjoy having company in the shop. I may get someone started that will turn into the next generations woodworking publications guru. I have switched over to using hand tools more and more. They are cleaner and quieter - not to mention usually faster with one offs.
Take care and seize the day.
04/03/2014 Matt
Moveable yet beautiful furniture would probably appeal to many of us Generation Xers, as we tend to move every 5-7 years or so. Further, the overall simplicity of Campaign furniture design (dare I call it Modern?) is also a very appealing to those of us who, though we appreciate the work that goes into a Period piece, would prefer to live among furniture with cleaner lines. Bravo, Schwarz!
04/04/2014 Josh C
I hope to pick up this book and read it soon but I am too busy right now covering the fundamentals in the Anarchists tool chest and by Hand and Eye. I do not think that woodworking will die if people are willing to apprentice young men and women in to the field. I myself am only 26 and have taken the only apprenticeship I could afford through buying books and using the online learning environment especially the hand tool school. I live in a small town house but I have a folding workbench that goes in the back storage closet and hand tools that can easily be put away. I even have helped a younger guy at my church sharpen up a saw and he seemed excited to learn. We want to learn but often lack the resources to get started or even basic skills that were often passed down from parents/fathers. I hope this book will help people get interested in moveable furniture but, it gets to be more than that. Getting my generation to set down their video games w/ achievement points and learn how to actually do something that will actually last.
04/06/2014 Ashley McCorkle
In your review you say:

"Woodworking as a hobby is dying. For all everyone wants people to learn to work wood, and all woodworking, in any form, is a very satisfying thing to do, fewer and fewer young people are interested in it." Perhaps the death of woodworking is greatly exaggerated. Particularly if you expand the definition of what you consider woodworking.

This runs through my head every time I haul a new load of wood into one of the two maker-spaces I frequent in the SF Bay Area, the Crucible and TechShop. Not only do I see people lined up at the planer and table saw most weekends, but I see even longer lines at the THREE ShopBot CNC machines and the laser cutter and engraver. This "Maker" movement is booming, and a lot of these people are making actual furniture out of actual wood. But sometimes this is "furniture making" like the current generation of woodworkers might not recognize as a valid expression of the craft.

Arts and Crafts arose as a movement partially as a reaction to mass industrialization, and sought to put the spotlight back on the craftsman rather than just the finished good. Then came the Reitveld, the Bauhaus, and other Modernist furniture styles that saw a chair and perceived a machine for sitting. Much of the CNC furniture I see coming out of Techshop has a similar point of view...flexible, utilitarian furniture for modern lifestyles...and you see it filling startups and lofts all over the city. But some of it manages to be more beautiful than utilitarian. Perhaps we are in a similar historical transition and we don't know it yet, where Krenov and Maloof are the current equivalent of Stickley and the Greene brothers.

I agree that campaign furniture is a great genre of furniture for the 21st century. I saw a modern interpretation of a steamer trunk by Method Studio's Callum Robinson in the March 2014 issue of the British mag Furniture and Cabinetmaking that blew my mind. Its as good of an example as I've seen thus far of someone using modern materials and construction techniques but remaining within the recognizable boundaries of the genre.

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The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the blog's author and guests and in no way reflect the views of Tools for Working Wood.
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